HOT TOWN – Summer in the city
I was sitting at the Escalones de la Lonja a couple of years ago, washing down calamares with beer on a night when the high for the day hit 28 degrees. The Gothic gargoyles of La Lonja loomed overhead, the façade of the Central Market stared me in the face, and a Coltrane ballad played from the bar as a cooling breeze brought the sound of murmuring voices from Café Lisboa behind me. And I remember thinking, ‘‘This feels right. This is why I want to live here.’’
It’s one of my fondest memories of Valencia and seems worth mentioning now that we’ve hit the ‘hot town, summer in the city’’ months when a day that tops out at 28 degrees makes you want to shout hallelujah. Summer brings Valencia out from the pisos to beat the heat, the sidewalks sprout plastic tables and chairs (even with the city’s campaign to limit them), and the marcha marches on (more slowly) for an extra hour. There may be a mass migration to beachside apartments and chalet-land in the mountains but there’s still plenty of choices for nocturnal rambling around the Carmen…
Very generally, bars on the Torres de Serrano side of Cabelleros are geared to the college youth backpack brigade which likes their night action loud, sweaty and jam-packed together. Caballeros from Serranos to Plaza Tossal and down Bolseria pull in the dress-to-impress, stylin’ crowd. The bars on the Central Market/La Lonja side of Caballeros are more hangouts for people who still take their partying seriously but like conversation with their drinks. Any serious bar concentration like the Caballeros-Calatrava intersection, Plaza Tossal, or the new one developing around Café Lisboa away from the Caballeros madhouse by Plaza Dr. Collado will have at least one place catering to every segment of the marcha mix.
No hesitation about recommending a starting point- Cafetín in Plaza Jaume was the spot I landed my first night in Valencia and it’s still the first place I bring guests new to Valencia. There’s something about the ambiance-outside beneath the canopy of trees or inside gazing out the window watching the people parade flow-that captures the flavor of Carmen life better than anything I know. Veteranos of more than 20 years in the area, back before the Plaza de Tossal the people who hang out at Cafetín’s crossroads as we know it existed and more upscale neighbours never dared to venture into the Carmen, Cafetín has a comfortable arty-funky feel and music to match. It’s an excellent central location to head off into the night, be it down Moro Zeit to the high-energy Radio City or up Baja to the low-key Jimmy Glass. Blue Note jazz rules everything at the latter, from the discs in the CD player to the posters and photos on the deep blue walls at this home base to the Valencia jazz world and site of concerts by local, national and international musicians every week.
All roads at some point in a Carmen walkabout lead to Café Negrito. Not much more you can say about this Valencia institution, meeting spot and nightlife barometer than passing time in the plaza outside during the summer is a treat. (If the crowd is too much, slip off to the tables in the alley by the Bodeguilla del Gato). Oh yeah, there is one thing – the ability of the hard ( and I mean HARD) working crew to sustain their good cheer in the face of wave after wave of people pressing to the bar for drinks never ceases to amaze me.
My usual walkabout rotation has suffered enormously from the way-too-long closing of the sorely missed Café de Temps. Nothing really compares to its dimly lit, smoky atmosphere and the best rhythm music mix in the barrio-heavy on the reggae, Brazilian, flamenco, and rai variants. When the hours have slipped away and the clock is ticking down to closing time, what better place than Radio City for a last drink or chance for romance among sweaty, youthful throngs and high-energy music.
Well, the night-time is the right time, as the song goes. Most of these places for midnight rambling, Carmen walkabout style, are well known but there’s a reason they’re popular. It comes down to music and informality for me, but last time I checked, I’m not you, and you’ll have no trouble finding hangouts that fit your tastes. Besides, you really didn’t think I was going to give up my secret hideaways now, did you?